By Joe Anuta and Rich Bockmann
Disgraced state Sen. Shirley Huntley wore a wire for the FBI last summer, but the information she collected was not used in the indictment of one of her colleagues in the state Legislature Monday.
State Sen. John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) was charged with two counts of embezzlement, five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements to the FBI for allegedly covering up a scheme to skim money from the escrow accounts of foreclosed homes, according to Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who spoke at a news conference about Huntley and Sampson.
“With respect to former Sen. Huntley’s cooperation … she did wear a wire. She made various recordings. The charges we have unsealed this morning against Sen. Sampson do not relate to that activity,” she said at a news conference in her offices.
Huntley pleaded guilty to fraud charges in Brooklyn federal court earlier this year for her involvement in a separate scheme to steal more than $87,000 in taxpayer money. Months before her arrest, FBI agents approached Huntley about her wrongdoing and attempted to forge a cooperation agreement, according to a sentencing memorandum released Friday.
At the direction of federal prosecutors, Huntley wore a wire last summer and recorded meetings with a total of nine people, one of whom was Sampson, the memorandum said.
Huntley was subsequently arrested in August and the cooperation agreement disintegrated sometime before November, the memo states.
In several interviews with prosecutors, Huntley admitted generally to wrongdoing, but gave misleading and inconsistent answers on specifics of how her separate embezzlement scheme transpired, the U.S. attorney’s office said. This led prosecutors to scrap any agreement with her.
But according to Lynch, information about Huntley’s limited cooperation with the FBI may be released at her sentencing Thursday, although it did not factor into Monday’s announcement.
Sampson, 47, stands accused of skimming about $450,000 off of the escrow accounts of four foreclosed Brooklyn properties between 1998 and 2008. The lawmaker served as a court-appointed referee and had control over the accounts, Lynch said. He intended to use the money to pay back debt from an unsuccessful 2005 run for Kings County district attorney, she said. In order to cover up the alleged embezzlement, Sampson then solicited a secret loan of about $166,000 from a real estate associate, which he did not report to the Senate, prosecutors charged.
When Lynch’s office began investigating the alleged transactions, which included interviewing witnesses, Sampson allegedly attempted to cover up his activities by lying to FBI agents, gleaning information from a friend inside the prosecutor’s office and even offering — in the event he found out the names of cooperating witnesses — to “take them out,” she said.
“The voters of New York State rightfully expect their elected officials to represent the voters’ interests, not to trade on their positions of power to line their own pockets,” Lynch said. “As charged in the indictment, for years, Senator John Sampson abused his position of public trust to steal from New Yorkers suffering from home foreclosure and from the very county he was elected to represent. But the former Senate ethics leader didn’t stop there. Senator Sampson allegedly stole that money to fund his own ambition to become Brooklyn’s top state prosecutor, then engaged in an elaborate obstruction scheme to hide his illegal conduct, going so far as to counsel lies and the hiding of evidence.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.